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A History of New Zealand Product Design › Reviews › Interior magazine review by Nicole Stock
15 October, 2011 at 11:50 am #220Michael SmytheParticipant
INTERIOR – Issue One – Sept-Nov 2011
This is a book so resolutely about product design that its niche market, you would expect, may be quite small and limited mainly to product designers, or perhaps even more so, industrial design students. And yet, I think it’s the people who have nothing more than a cursory interest in design that might just enjoy this book the most.
While products are the theme of this story, this is really a history of New Zealand, articulated through the things we have made and imagined and used. Starting from around 1250, Michael Smythe begins with Maori design heritage in the cleverly named section ‘Whakairo follows function’. From that early beginning he charts invention and craft from whalers and settlers to immigrants and exporters right up to now, when we are tentatively marketing ourselves as a design hub.
In many ways, recounting history through designed objects is the past at its most fascinating. Instantly, you are discussing problems, needs and desires and then, also, solutions found, inventiveness and a touch of madness. Even just by skimming through the images — both product shots and scene-setters — you see technological advances, changes in tastes and styles, a shift from rural to urban, and even how we see ourselves, what we value, what we are self-conscious about and what we think we’re good at.
But if you just flicked through the photos you’d be missing the point. This book is text heavy, thoroughly researched and dense — but not difficult to read. There is so much information here that at first it is quite overwhelming, yet Smythe has a light touch and a strong narrative voice. Without realising it, you’ll end up reading an entire section about farm machinery. (Yep, it happened to me.) For product designers I’m sure this will be an essential resource. But I hope it gets a wider audience. This is a great biography of this country, told through our stuff.
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